The Emergence of Knowledge as an Ecology
- June 28, 2004
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If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.For more than a decade, knowledge management has been an elusive goal. Recently, the pending "great crew change" as the oil industry calls the imminent retirement of the baby boomers is forcing organizations to reevaluate approaches towards capturing over thirty years of investment in people.
- Benjamin Franklini
Early knowledge management systems held the view that we could either capture the learning of key personnel and then record that expertise into artificial intelligence systems or develop extensive data stores enabled by a variety of software products or a combination of both. In reality and for a number of reasons these systems fell short.
Oxford defines ecology as, The science of the economy of animals and plants, that branch of biology which deals with the relations of living organisms to their surroundings, their habits and modes of life, etc. Additionally, this source defines knowledge as, Intellectual acquaintance with, or perception of fact or truth; clear and certain mental apprehension; the fact, state, or condition of understanding.ii Therefore, one might define Knowledge Ecology as the interrelationship of intelligent living organisms and their perceptions of fact and understanding. Somewhat different from just business intelligence and information warehouses, knowledge builds on the intuition and experimentation that comes from relevant experience. A knowledge base extends outward, not just capitalizing on the sum total learning of a specific individual organism or the collective experience of a cultural set, but expanding to encompass new ideas and concepts. An ecology of intellectual exchange. Many organizations proclaim that they have embodied knowledge management as a core competency. However, what does this mean? In many cases, management does not even understand the intellectual horsepower they command. Stifling initiative and forcing employee creativity into existing boxes all the while proclaiming that they value thinking outside the box, most organizations really prefer the status quo to change based on their expensive knowledge base. Knowledge is expensive and it must be used if shareholders are to receive value from this investment.
The Price of Knowledge
The accumulation of knowledge is not free. Whether school taxes paid to advance children through the primary grades through high school or college tuition, the development of a knowledge base requires both a financial investment and a period-of-time. The later component can be the basis of barrier to entry into market niches or technological expertise driven advantage. Money alone cannot buy knowledge. Time alone is also not enough either. The time spent must be productive. We have all heard the joke about the 30-year employee that had one year of experience 30 times. Knowledge is also a function of synergies obtained by the organization and its supply chain partners and even customers. Internal processes must capture and codify a wide range of data and information into Intellectual Property (IP). When these processes are effective and efficient, the organizations IP is enhanced and competitive advantage can be obtained. Moreover, the investment must be continuous, a process of lifelong learning. New things must be tired, lessons learned and then applied. In other words, knowledge management is a broad and informed approach to decision-making and problem solving, integrating past experience with new experimentation.
Knowledge must be directed. Focused towards a specific direction that builds upon the base and capitalizes on the possible. If knowledge management is a poorly defined framework with expectations that best practices across many industries will add value, failure becomes an option. By definition, unless this framework is well defined and aligned with the business model there is no knowledge. In fact, learning obtained in such an environment might even be considered anti-knowledge because decisions taken from this foundation are unlikely to add value and may even detract. The equivalent of an individuals moral compass, the organizations knowledge framework must be aligned with and contribute its culture. Always pointing north, knowledge capital helps the firm remains on course despite the normal course adjustments required by everyday challenges. Best Thinking
When an organization views it knowledge and subsequent IP from an ecological lens, it is able to capitalize on a breadth of current and forward thinking. Ones ability to think outside the box is limited if the view is always outward looking. Ecological interaction enables best thinking, not necessarily best practices to surface. Best thinking, in that new solutions may emerge that puts the organization on the forefront of its industry, not simply reacting to the so-called best practices of others. Organizations spend significant resources to select the best employee candidates. This front-end practice seeks to populate the concern with the best and the brightest minds and work ethics. Each firm the in ecosystem attempts to do the same. Organizations that can capitalize on this vast collection of the best and the brightest available to it in an effective and efficient manner can achieve competitive advantage over those with less managerial prowess. Bringing best thinking to bear on critical problems can only be accomplished using a knowledge ecology framework.
An investment in the organizational head always pays the best interest.iKnowledge Quotes, Knowledge Quotations, Knowledge Sayings Famous Knowledge Quotations. http://home.att.net/~quotations/knowledge.html
ii Oxford English Dictionary.